What sits on the Coffee Table?

Posted on May 21, 2011


“Rembrandt in Oman” is an unusual choice of coffee table literature but the book has some excellent Arabesque etchings and indeed an interesting back story.

In August 2010: I was invited, for 5 days, to be personal guest of His Excellency Sheikh Abdulla bin Mohamed bin Abdulla Al Salmi , the Minister of Awqaf & Religious Affairs in the Sultanate of Oman.

Simon Hawkesley at the farm of His Excellency Sheikh Abdulla bin Mohamed bin Abdulla Al Salmi

His Excellency and his family were, beyond doubt, the finest hosts that I have ever had the honour and privilege to encounter. Interestingly my trip coincided with the semi-finals and finals of the soccer World Cup. So rather than being a quiet affair; ostensively during the day it was, …. BUT…. the evenings; heated reaction to referees decisions, the drama of each pass, volley, free-kick and corner were met with the same passion and energy, as one would find, in an East-End Pub on match day!

Notably I had been invited to design 4 little Palace’s, for the sons of His Excellency, overlooking the beachfront in Qurum, a beautiful suburb of Muscat the Omani capital. This made for very long days in a 50 degree Oman summer, followed by World Cup on the TV in the evening and back to work throughout the night to create drawings to present to His Excellency over breakfast, lunch and dinners each day. A tremendous experience that I will cherish indefinitely. I vow to return, when my diary permits,  to galvanise a strong relationship between our two families.

A Cross-Section of my Palace design by Sam Hawkesley, my son.

Something really impressive; the Al Salmi Library, the Oldest Privately Owned Library in the Sultanate of Oman; privately owned by His Excellency’s family. His Excellency mentioned that he had organised an Exhibition entitled Rembrandt in Oman

“The library is a way to gain knowledge and to bring harmony to the society”

Rembrandt in Oman: The Al Salmi Library presented, for the first time in the Middle East and North Africa, 100 Rembrandt etchings during the “Rembrandt in Oman” exhibition in Muscat. The exhibition was held from the 20th of August to the 19th of September 2009 at the Grand Hyatt Muscat.

The Al Salmi Library had initiated this exceptional exhibition. “To host a Rembrandt exhibition for the first time in the Middle East and North Africa was a great privilege. With exhibition Rembrandt in Oman we will expose our people to the outside world. Everybody considers Rembrandt to be a great virtuoso. He produced more than three hundred prints over a period of forty years. His etchings were always eagerly collected and commanded high prices even during his own lifetime. His bold experiments with etching techniques are something art lovers in Oman and in the Gulf region should see”.

His Excellency paused for a second and produced a copy of his book for me as a keep sake. If you flick through it; please be careful; it has great sentimental value to me.

"A Rembrandt" ... on the coffee table ....

History of The Al Salmi Library:

The Al Salmi Library was established more than 100 years ago. However not many are aware of this unique privately owned library, located in Bidiya in the Interior of the Sultanate of Oman. The library is not just a place filled with religious, cultural and historical books. It is also a place where the culture of the region can studied. The Al Salmi family believes that this is a way to gain knowledge and to bring harmony to the Omani society.

The library was established more than 120 years ago by Nur al-Din al-Salmi, who was born in 1867. According to the Al Salmi family, the library started taking shape sometime in 1887.

Initially, the library was part of the school that was founded by Nur al-Din al-Salmi, who himself was a language, religion and history teacher. Nur al-Din al-Salmi’s love for books and manuscripts was legendary. In recognition of Nur al-Din al-Salmi’s effort to spread knowledge and education in Oman, His Majesty Sultan Faisal bin Turki granted him 500 silver karz (Maria Theresa Thaler) in 1895.

The financial reward was a real turning point in the history of the Al Salmi Library. Nur al-Din al-Salmi decided to travel immediately to Mekka to go on Hajj. During his stay there, he spent all the silver karz for books on various topics. That was the time when Al Salmi Library got its first large consignment of books. The library stands testimony to the fact Nur al-Din al-Salmi was always collecting reference books for his school and himself and he was writing as well.

In the 19th century, Al Salmi Library was establishedin Bidiyah in Dhahir then in 1970 the library was moved to (al-Mintarib), its current location. In 1984 Sheikh Muhammad al-Salmi, son of Nur al-Din al-Salmi, constructed a special building for the library in Bidiyah.

The majority of the manuscripts are unique and not available anywhere else. The library has adopted a scientific method to preserve all the contents and every manuscript and document has been digitally scanned.

In 1994, during the Cultural Heritage Year in Oman, the Al Salmi Library was rewarded for its efforts in promoting knowledge with a special prize from His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

Features of The Al Salmi Library:

The one story building is an architectural marvel. It has all the facilities of a library including a reading area.

Al Salmi Library consists of four sections:

· letters and documents (mainly exchanges between prominent personalities throughout history)

· manuscripts (700 valuable manuscripts collected from Oman and the region)

· old printed references (over 6000 pieces)

· collection of valuable antique items from Oman (including swords and khanjars)

Visitors of the library come from Europe and other parts of the world. They are mainly researchers and have heard of the Al Salmi Library through different sources. Most of the manuscripts are available only in Arabic. Of course those coming from abroad either know Arabic or bring along a translator.

The privately owned library enjoys the moral support of the Omani government. The Al Salmi Library is supervised by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture.

The library is open to the public upon request. All books and manuscripts may not be taken from the library.

 The Future of Al Salmi Library:

Simon Hawkesley representing http://www.MaverickGlobal.info

In the future, the Al Salmi family wants to see the library grow. Currently the third generation of the Al Salmi family is managing the library. There are no directors but the whole family is passionate about preserving the scripts for future generations in Oman. Family members continue to collect rare manuscripts from abroad and from various places in Oman. No worth can be put for the collection at the Al Salmi Library. The library collection is priceless. The Al Salmi Library supports writers in publishing new titles and books about the region.

The family’s future plan is to establish a fully fledged museum beside the existing library. Al Salmi Library is not just a normal library but an institution of knowledge, that will as well continue supporting publishing ventures. In addition, the library has plans to bring more art exhibitions to the Sultanate – probably from East Asia.